Clothes make the man, so the saying goes. But does the reverse hold true? Read a synopsis of Frédéric Tcheng’s engrossing documentary and it might seem like it’s all about a single genius, clothing designer Raf Simons, hired to bring a fresh perspective to the Christian Dior fashion house. In execution, however, the film is about the many hands and heads that work together to realize Simons’ individual vision, which is itself beholden to the Dior brand.
Even fashionista neophytes have heard the name: Christian Dior founded his iconic clothing line in 1946, and it quickly grew to prominence. Though Dior himself died in 1957, the company has remained a leading light, and just as frequent target, of the luxury clothing industry. (One of Simons’ predecessors, John Galliano, was removed from his position in 2011 because of an anti-Semitic tirade caught on tape.)
Dior And I isn’t any kind of hard-hitting exposé. Tcheng—who previously co-directed another style doc, Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has To Travel—is seduced by this exclusive world, and he communicates that allure with undeniable flair. It helps that he seems to have been given unrestricted access to Simons from his first day on the job to the debut (just eight weeks later) of his first haute couture collection.
It’s a ticking-clock narrative: Can an entire season’s worth of clothing be designed, sewed, and displayed in two months’ time, when four months is the norm? The film’s relatively fleet running time allows viewers to feel a distilled sense of the pressure Simons and his crew are under. (There’s a great lump-in-throat moment when an all-important dress gets stuck in transit on an elevator.) Yet for all the seductive imagery of billowing apparel and impossibly angled high heels, Tcheng never loses sight of the people overseeing every stitch.
A good portion of the film is spent in the Dior atelier, populated by interns—new hires and old hands who speak of their work, and the pressures that come with it, with a potent mix of frustration and reverence. One of the tensest scenes deals with the absence of the atelier’s première, Florence Chehet, when she’s put in the impossible scenario of attending to a client across the ocean in New York and being on hand in the Paris office to assist Simons with dress fittings. It’s gripping to watch this unexpected planning snafu make its way through the chain of command, then ultimately be shrugged off—the vagaries of big business.
Ultimately, everyone involved seems to find the demands of the job worth it, and it’s easy to understand why when Dior And I arrives at its spectacular finale. Showmanship makes up for a lot, and the debut of Simons’ collection rivals Vincente Minnelli in its jaw-dropping pageantry. Models walk through a reconstituted Paris mansion that’s been decorated, floor to ceiling, with a rainbow’s assortment of flowers. Prominently featured guests include Anna Wintour, Donatella Versace, Sharon Stone, and Jennifer Lawrence (hilariously seated beside Harvey Weinstein, looking even more hirsute than usual). The clothes delight, and everyone—from invited guests to the Dior workers standing just off the runway—seems struck dumb by the pomp of it all. It’s wealth porn, pure and simple. But in this context it turns out to be the perfect drug.